Spontaneous recovery of fear reverses extinction-induced excitability of infralimbic neurons

PLoS One. 2014 Aug 4;9(8):e103596. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103596. eCollection 2014.


In rodents, the infralimbic (IL) region of the medial prefrontal cortex plays a key role in the recall of fear extinction. Previously we showed that fear conditioning decreases the intrinsic excitability of IL neurons, and that fear extinction reverses the depressed excitability. In the current study, we examined the time course of the extinction-induced changes in adolescent rats. Immediately after extinction, IL neurons continued to show depressed excitability. However 4 hours after extinction, IL neurons showed an increase in evoked spikes that correlated with a reduced fast afterhyperpolarizing potential. This suggests that acquisition of fear extinction induces an increase in spike firing 4 hours later, during the consolidation of extinction. We also examined IL excitability in a group of rats that showed spontaneous recovery of fear 17 days after extinction (SR group). Similar to neurons after fear conditioning, IL neurons from the SR group showed depressed intrinsic excitability compared to neurons 4 hours after extinction, suggesting that extinction-induced enhancement in intrinsic excitability decreases with time reverting back to a depressed state. These results suggest that plasticity in IL contributes to the spontaneous recovery of fear and preventing this depression of IL excitability could prolong fear extinction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley